February General Meeting Notes
The San Pedro Business Association held its February 2008 General Meeting at El Divino Restaurant on Friday, February 22. At the head table for the meeting were Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., Deputy Mayor Joseph Elijio, SPBA Chairman Elito Arceo and SPBA Treasurer Terry Anderson.
In his opening statement, Arceo congratulated Area Rep Manuel Heredia for winning in the recent elections, and on his appointment as Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation. He then gave an update on the BDF patrols that occurred over the holiday season. These patrol had a strong impact on the community as crime decreased noticeably (8%) during the time period they were here. Arceo noted that there is still money in the Safety Committee account for use on crime related issues. He also mentioned that the Police Boat, which was donated by SPBA member Captain Morgan’s Retreat and outfitted by the SPBA has been delivered to the Police Department for their use, and thanked all members and non-members that donated to the Safety Committee.
Area Representative, the Honorable Manuel Heredia then took to the podium to deliver some opening remarks. Heredia started off by thanking everyone for being present at the meeting and promised that he will work together with the local sector and government for a better San Pedro. He is committed to working together to make things better for everyone on the island. He noted that the Prime Minister is committed to transparency and accountability in this government.
Local Government Funding and Taxation:
On the issue of taxes and increasing funding for the local Town Board, Heredia said that while not in a position to get into details on these issues, he assured the audience that more of the money that is generated on Ambergris Caye will stay here. He continued by saying that the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow has promised that revenues will come back to San Pedro for infrastructure and other amenities and that the Local Authority will be able to do much more in the island for the betterment of streets, piers and other amenities. He noted that Transportation Department revenues will stay on the island effective soon (approx. $300,000). Liquor Licence revenues will stay here also, as will other revenue sources specific to Ambergris Caye.
On the issue of accountability and the decision making process, Heredia commented that this central government is committed to consultation with all Local Authorities and stakeholders on any decisions that affect a given area. All ministries will be accountable and transparent, and all ‘major decisions’ will be discussed by and approved by cabinet.
“I believe that any ministry which wants to do anything in the island must consult their plans with the Local Authority and Business Sector before anything is done; they need to get the approval from the people of San Pedro,” stated Hon. Heredia.
Another issue raised was having the hotels being zero rated of GST. Mr. Heredia stated that a vast number of things will be revised so as to make them exempt from some taxes. According to Heredia, the Town Council subvention will be increased so that the local authority can receive what it actually deserves compared to other districts in the country. While the subvention is a complicated issue, Central Government is looking at the process from all areas. Central Government is committed to ensuring that more of the revenue generated on Ambergris Caye will stay in the local community. The matter of San Pedro becoming a district will most definitely be revisited Heredia commented.
The question of uncollected property taxes was also raised, and Heredia commented that he has met with the Town Board regarding this issue, and a plan to deal with this issue is in place.
Tourism and Crime:
On issues of Tourism and Crime on Ambergris Caye, Heredia said that his intention is to place a large focus of the Belize Tourism Board on building tourism here on Ambergris. Hon. Heredia mentioned that as Minister of Tourism he will work hand in hand with the Minister of Defense and National Security, Mr. Carlos Perdomo, to ensure that San Pedro is given the attention and provided with extra police officers or BDF for better security since it is the premier tourist destination. He noted that Mr. Perdomo is very experienced. Heredia also committed to lobbying for a consistent BDF presence on the island. Attention to the issue of crime must be given here, and in all tourist destinations in the country.
At the meeting, Officer Dennis Arnold, head of the San Pedro Police Department, was present and commented that while the BDF were stationed on the island it did help the police department and the community in a whole. He also mentioned that he strongly agrees in bringing them back to assist the short-staffed police department on the island. Officer Arnold commented that the new Police Boat will mainly be used the Northern areas, and mostly for pursuit purposes.
Officer Arnold was also asked about the practice of private individuals hiring uniformed police officers for specific cases, and if it wouldn’t make more sense to find more overtime, on-duty hours for the officers instead of having them hired out privately. Arnold thought this was a good idea, noting that it is expensive to live on the island and that his officers need to be able to maintain their income level under any new system.
Officer Arnold was also approached with concerns about late night drinking, especially at particular establishments and also questioned about implementing a limit on liquor licences in the Master Plan. He mentioned that he wanted bars to close at 3:00 am but conceded a 4:00 am closing time, and also that the Police will be cracking down on issues such as this, particularly were an establishment has repeated problems involving crime and drinking. He noted that the Police can recommend to Town Board that an establishment have it’s liquor licence suspended or cancelled, and that when establishments are in the process of renewing their licence, a review of problems can be held before granting a new licence.
On the increasingly important issue of garbage, Heredia informed the Business Association of the good news that in the next few months San Pedro should be receiving a garbage compactor and street sweeper. He also mentioned that he would be taking this matter to cabinet in order to try to get central government to help in purchasing another street sweeper or garbage compactor for the island.
Ambergris Caye Master Plan:
Heredia mentioned that he agrees with the SPBA that the ‘Master Plan’ needs to be enacted and enforced. Local authorities need to examine the plan, make recommendations on changes and improvements, and when ready he will take it to Cabinet for approval. He agrees that a logical plan for development of Ambergris Caye needs to be followed. In answer to a question from the floor, he commented that the Master Plan does and should encompass the entire Island and the adjacent Cayes, not just San Pedro Town.
Other issues covered by the quest speakers included concerns over the crocodile feeding at the WASA pond in the south of the island; the incorporation of Cangrejo Caye into Hol Chan Marine Reserve (which Hon. Heredia committed to doing) and the protection of the Mexico Rocks area.
In closing, Elito Arceo thanked all the members and guests for attending the meeting. In some Business Association housekeeping it was announced that Andre Perez would no longer sit on the Steering Committee as the Vice-Chairman but would remain an active member of the SPBA. It was also announced that the establishment of an SPBA Committee to examine and make recommendations about changes to the Master Plan would be set up, and that any members interested in being on this committee should contact Elito or Rebecca Arceo.
5th Annual Reef Lagoon Eco Challenge Kayak Race and SPBA Block Beach Party:
Also, Elito Arceo and Hol Chan Marine Reserve will be having their 5th Annual Reef Lagoon Eco Challenge Kayak Race on April 26th and 27th.The culmination of the race will be at Central Park on April 27th where the SPBA will be sponsoring a Block Beach Party.
Festivities of the Block Beach Party will include a grilling competition. Awards and prizes will be given for the best BBQ Ribs, Best BBQ Chicken, Best BBQ seafood and Best Decorated Booth. There will also be awards given for the Best “Drink”. There will be a DJ all day and live entertainment.
Anyone interested in having a booth can contact the SPBA at 226.4474 or e-mail the SPBA for more details.